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Ticked by spam in your e-mail?


August 28, 2001

Little did you know that just by opening your inbox you could discover ``how to let your computer make money while you sleep!!!''

Or that your e-mail is ``FOR ADULTS ONLY!!!'' Or that you've been selected for an advanced degree!

If these are familiar, you already know spam. And if you're like most people, you hate it. How dare these people enter your inbox uninvited?

Some of it is fraudulent, some of it deceptive, all of it annoying. According to InternetWeek magazine, nearly $2 of your monthly Internet service provider bill can be attributed to UCE, unsolicited commercial e-mail.

You want it to stop.

It will not be easy. Junk e-mailers have tricks to escape detection, and you're a sitting duck. To minimize it, you'll need common sense, willpower and work. How much depends on your tolerance. But you won't make any money while you sleep.

First, the common sense.

Be careful with your e-mail address. Think of it like a business card. You might drop it in a restaurant's jar to win a free lunch, but you wouldn't blow it up and tack it to every tree. That's asking for trouble.

So is posting your e-mail address on a website, chat room or newsgroup. Simpler to wear a sign saying ``Spam me.''

Most reputable businesses don't spam and won't sell your address to those that do. So it's probably safe to give your e-mail address to them. Check the site's privacy statement to be sure. Otherwise, get a free, browser-based e-mail account such as Hotmail, Yahoo! or Netscape and use it as a decoy.

More common sense: Fill out online forms carefully. Use your decoy address. And watch out for the ``spam me'' box.

The ``spam me'' box appears in almost all online forms. Say you're signing up for an online account for your new credit card. Look for the pre-checked box that says, in effect, ``Fill my inbox with lame offers!'' If you don't uncheck this, they're just doing as you asked.

Willpower? Never, ever buy anything from spammers or even visit their site. Don't reply to junk e-mail. A reply confirms your address is valid. Never follow directions to be removed from the spammer's list.

Now the hard part. Some of this is real work.

You can download and install a spam filter or use the tools that come with your e-mail program to make your own. Search the Web for instructions for your e-mail program. This fights the symptom but not the disease.

You can use a mail filtering service, such as the one at www.despammed.com. These services give you a new e-mail address, filter out the spam and send you only the good stuff. Other sites locate the right people to complain to when you get spammed.

Finally, you can sue, at least in North Carolina. Sending ``unsolicited electronic bulk commercial mail'' is unlawful. You can take the spammers to court and sue for attorneys' costs and damages of $10 per message or $25,000 per day.

Maybe that's what they mean by ``making money while you sleep.''

BY JOHN McBRIDE, Knight Ridder Newspapers. Copyright © 2001 Miami Herald


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